News Around the Republic of Mexico | September 2007
|September 16th - Mexican Independence Day|
Allan Wall - PVNN
Every nation needs symbols, traditions and celebrations, to affirm its identity and pass its traditions to the next generation. That’s why national holidays are important.
One of the most popular Mexican patriotic holidays is Diez y Seis de Septiembre (the 16th of September), Mexican Independence Day. It celebrates the independence of Mexico, from Spain, in the early 19th century.
As Independence Day approaches, one sees more Mexican flags of various sizes, being sold on street corners. My university is festooned with green, red and white streamers- the colors of the Mexican flag.
Mexican Independence Day really begins on the night of September 15th, at the traditional Grito observance. Grito means “shout” or “cry.” It commemorates the manner in which Miguel Hidalgo, considered the father of Mexico, publicly initiated what became the Mexican independence movement, in 1810.
This was in the town of Dolores, now renamed Dolores Hidalgo, in central Mexico. Hidalgo, a priest, gathered the people in front of the church on the plaza, where he gave a speech and rang the bell, and called the people to action. (Today, tourists can visit Dolores de Hidalgo, see the same church and tour Hidalgo’s house.)
In commemoration of Hidalgo’s original Grito, the time-honored tradition is for Mexicans to gather in plazas in Mexican cities large and small. There are speeches and performances. At 11 pm, the mayor, on the balcony, waves a flag and shouts Vivas in honor of Hidalgo and other Independence figures, and of course “Viva Mexico!” Then fireworks are detonated.
On the 16th, no school is held (this year it’s Sunday anyway.) There are parades, including a massive Mexican military parade in Mexico City. Another custom is the bullfight on the afternoon of the 16th. It might seem ironic to stage a bullfight to celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain. On the other hand, though Spanish political control was ended, Spanish culture never left Mexico. In fact, it’s still the principal cultural influence.
The study of the Mexican War of Independence is a fascinating one. One soon finds that it is quite complex. It involved the various social classes in Mexico. It was closely linked to what was going on in Spain and Europe. It lasted eleven years (from 1810-1821), it consisted of several phases, and was led by men of diverse ideologies. Even the role and importance of Hidalgo is now being questioned.
Before independence, Mexico was part of a vast Spanish Empire stretching from California to Tierra del Fuego in the chilly southern extremity of South America. But in 1808, Spain was conquered by Napoleon. What then became of Spain’s empire? Napoleon was famously disinterested in the Western Hemisphere (which is why he sold the Louisiana Territory to us.) This created a power vacuum in the Spanish Empire, and nature abhors a vacuum. So Napoleon indirectly triggered various independence movements throughout the empire.
In Mexico, Miguel Hidalgo’s insurgency, which began in 1810, was not officially directed against the deposed Spanish monarchy, but against the Spanish authorities who were then running Mexico. Hidalgo was captured and shot in 1811.
The most famous leader of the next phase of the movement was Jose Morelos, another priest, who had been a student of Hidalgo. It was during the Morelos phase that an independent Mexico became the concrete public goal of the insurgency.
Morelos was captured and executed in 1815. By this time Napoleon had been driven out of Spain and the Spanish tried to keep their empire . But the damage had been done, and the Spaniards were soon to lose all their mainland possessions in the Western Hemisphere.
After Morelos’ death, Mexican guerrillas movements, led by Vicente Guerrero, Guadalupe Victoria, and others, continued to resist the Spanish government. But they didn’t really amount to much.
Ironically, it was the Mexican royalists’ switching sides that brought about independence. In 1820, a new government took power in Spain. Suddenly, the Mexican royalists, who had been loyal to Spain all these years, decided they would rather rule an independent Mexico. So they sent General Iturbide (who had been fighting the royalists all these years) to make a pact with the guerilla leader Guerrero, who agreed to it. In August of 1821, the Spanish viceroy in Mexico recognized the independence of Mexico and signed the Treaty of Cordoba.
On September 27th, Iturbide’s army entered Mexico City, and on the 28th of September, an independent Mexico was officially declared.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
Click HERE for more articles by Allan Wall.